So another season on Loch Leven has come and gone and, as usual, anglers fishing the loch experienced mixed fortunes – but I dare say that is wild brown trout fishing for you. And nobody has ever said fishing Loch Leven was easy or, if they did, it must have been a heck of a long time ago!
There were a number of encouraging plus points to be taken from last season. The trout population looks in good shape with all year groups seemingly well represented. The ones which were caught all appeared to be in cracking condition and are obviously finding no shortage of food sources in the loch. There were some lovely big fish caught too, and although Alan Campbell’s 2013 record still stands, the sheer numbers of 6 -7 lbs trout caught throughout last season suggests that pressure is mounting, particularly if one considers the frequency of anglers reporting being ‘broken’.
On the downside, they as often as not proved frustratingly hard for anglers to catch and land. All Loch Leven regulars will have their own pet theories but one of the main ones relates to the sheer abundance of food stuff in the loch which means the trout are spoilt for choice. As water quality and clarity has improved, so the loch has sprung back to life in spectacular fashion after being in dire straits just 25 years ago. Light is penetrating deeper into the water column, encouraging weed growth at depths last recorded almost a century ago which in turn encourages other forms of aquatic life to prosper. The trout are spoilt for choice and perhaps feeding on fly life becomes more of a trout pastime rather than necessity. That said, they do still find it hard to resist a good fly hatch!
There were some very good buzzer hatches as early as April – and big buzzers they were too! These hatches took place in relatively small, local areas and you needed to be in the right place at the right time. Some very nice baskets of fish were caught by those fortunate enough to be there during these hatches and, right from the very start of the season, the fish were found to be in excellent condition which suggested that they had been feeding through the winter months. We had suspected before the start of the season that this might have been the case due to the myriads of corixa and stickleback that we had observed throughout the winter and spring months.
As the weather warmed up, we did get some evening hatches of buzzers and these tended to be rather better hatches than we have seen for 2 or 3 seasons although still nothing like those huge hatches we used to witness a decade or so ago. What nobody knows is whether the decline in recent years in the size and frequency of fly hatches marks a low part of the cycle of the loch’s insect population (which will then bounce back in due course) or whether it is a structural change, being a by-product of the vastly improved water quality. Obviously, from an angler’s point of view, we hope it is just a low part of a multi year cycle and the insect population will bounce back in due course – walkers and cyclists on the Heritage Trail around the loch will undoubtedly disagree!
April and May saw some very good pike fishing indeed and it has been remarkable how quickly the pike population has recovered in recent years. Although we have not recorded the numbers and size of pike being caught, we will start doing so next season because a back of fag packet estimate suggested that probably over 1000 were caught during that 2 month period despite us not promoting pike-fishing in any meaningful way. Pike has a relatively short season on Loch Leven (end march to early June) because it becomes far harder to track them down once the weed beds have become established because they become the pike’s favoured hunting ground. As far as we are aware, the biggest pike caught was Rod McLellan’s 25 pounder which he caught just outside the harbour in the last week of April but there were several others caught of a similar size. The 30 pounder must now be very much in pike anglers’ sights.
May & June saw water clarity fairly steady at around 4.5 meters as measured on the Secchi Disc which resulted in the brownies seemingly reluctant to leave the depths and come up in the water column. They were mainly being caught by anglers fishing deep using buzzer tactics. Indeed, some very nice baskets of fish were recorded during this period and indeed some very big trout in superb condition succumbed to these tactics. There were numerous anglers who recorded their personal best brown trout in May & June.
July & August continued to produce big fish amongst the recorded catches and we experienced some very good hatches of Yellow Owl – indeed these were probably the best hatches of these lovely chironomid that we have seen for several seasons. With the warmer evenings, trout did respond by coming up to the surface to feed on these big flies and, for the first time during the season, we saw good numbers of small fish joining in the fun. These small fish constituted a new year group that we had not come in contact with during the earlier months.
Some good evening fishing was enjoyed during August with a lot of these smaller brownies at or near the surface. Sometimes they performed well during the day sessions as well. As we have started to see in recent years, water clarity dipped during these two months down to 1.5 – 2 meters. In August, some fish did start to feed voraciously on fry both close to, and sometimes in amongst, the extensive weed beds which have now become such a welcome feature at Loch Leven. It is fantastic to watch these often big trout fry-bashing but at the same time it is so frustrating because the only thing on the trout’s mind at the time seems to be fry and they show little or no inclination to be tempted by the angler’s flies!
Sadly, September proved to be a disappointment. The loch was hit with a pretty big diatom (brown algae) bloom which undoubtedly caused the fishing to slow up significantly. Nevertheless fish were still active along the edge of the weed beds and, on some days, out in the open water. When caught, they still gave a very good account of themselves but the season did peter out with a bit of a whimper.
To summarise, there was a lot going on at Loch Leven last season. Zooplankton were present in the water column in prolific numbers and did not appear to suffer the die off that usually occurs. We check the Zooplankton on a weekly basis because it represents such an important food stuff for all age groups of trout but especially for newly recruited juveniles.
As mentioned earlier in the report, although nothing like what we used to experience here in the old days, the size and frequency of the fly hatches was encouraging as they were definitely better on both counts than in recent years.
Algae was still present in the water column on and off throughout the season but that is only to be expected at a relatively shallow, eutrophic loch like Loch Leven. However it is also fair to say that the total biomass of algae over the last decade is far reduced from what we were experiencing prior to that. Weed growth is now established pretty much all over the loch which is a very encouraging feature as it provides a very much more balanced environment for the fish.
The brownies have now just finished their breeding activities in the many feeder streams which we are fortunate to have as part of our system in the Loch Leven catchment area. Spawning appeared to be a rather more protracted affair this autumn with fish being observed in some of the feeder streams as early as the second week of September and yet we were still recording pairs of fish on redds in the third week of November! This protracted spawning season is probably down to flow rates in burns being lower than in previous seasons although they have still been perfectly adequate to allow the trout access to all their normal spawning areas.
We would like to thank all the anglers who visited us here at Loch Leven last season and especially for their huge respect for our trout around 70% of which are typically returned after being caught and measured / weighed “to fight another day!”
And indeed we would also like to express our gratitude to the many anglers who took time to take photos of them and their catches and send them in to us. We try where possible to include any photos submitted in our weekly reports and I hope you agree with us when we say that they really help bring those reports to life. Without them, a somple written report can be fairly turgid reading. Please, please continue to send us in your photos!!
Finally, to end off on a photographic note, here are 2 of our favorites from last season